I’m going to tell you a little about what it is like being friends with a survivor of institutional abuse and the mother and baby institutions. Each day we wake up to something new that triggers her. Everyday something unexpected will set off the flashbacks and yet every day is a blessing.
My friend, who is like a sister to me, is always fighting for justice — to ensure what happened to many children and women in this country is recognised for what it is, an atrocity of epic proportions.
She spends hours on the phone with other survivors, helping them through their day and guiding them towards the closure they need to start healing.
Sadly, our governments and the Church keep throwing up new roadblocks to keep them from getting the resolution they need. I see the pain and frustration it causes. I live with it every day. To see this pain on a face of someone you love because they can’t get the answers they seek for their friends, who don’t have much time left, is entirely crushing.
The pure disappointment that comes from knowing your country’s authorities have yet to learn from their mistakes, is only reinforced by the knowledge that what would heal survivors remains always out of reach. I’ve known my friend for seven years and in that time I have met other survivors, all of whom have made a huge impact in my life.
They have taught me the meaning of survival and I have learned that my battles can be won, if I have the resilience to just never give up. They fight to have their history recognised, as officially recorded history, archived and available to students who want to learn the complete history of their country.
The Government sees survivors, like my friend, as too damaged to be listened to and so they have come up with boards and commissions to kid-glove them.
Many in our society see survivors as hysterical but when you live one you see that, their “damage” makes them stronger, more resilient, less likely to back down. Their “hysteria” a healthy show of emotion and righteous passion for the cause. I absolutely adore and admire these people.
They have witnessed, experienced and lived through the stuff of nightmares. They survived, remained open-hearted and they are still capable of smiling and loving without fault or condition.
As I write this I hope to reach those of us who stand on the outside reading the odd article and listening on the radio. We have to help these people to receive their justice and closure. Survivors are your mother, your grandmother, your dad, your granddad, your aunts and uncles.
Maybe they have never spoken of their experiences with you but everyone on this island knows somebody who the institutions have affected.
The time has come for each of them for each of them to heal. You can help by talking about it with friends and asking your local TDs and politicians what there doing to help survivors. Ask them to get rid of the retention of records bill, which aims to seal all records relating to residential institutions for a period of 75 years.
Ask our leaders to step forward to help survivors to get what’s needed for their recovery. Help them to put a stop to the sale of the lands where those who never managed to leave the gates of these institutions are buried in unmarked graves such as Bessborough, Good Shepherds, Castlepollard, Tuam etc.
There are many more the lands which need to be forensically investigated and graves need to be protected before any sale goes through. The proceeds from the sale of any such properties should be put in trust for anyone who suffered in these places.
Those responsible for places like Tuam and Bessborough — where there are confirmed discrepancies in burial records of children and written testimonies of people who witnessed the burials — still try and find every which reason to stall and not give the closure to the mothers missing their babies and the sisters missing their brothers.
This is unlawful as the law provides, to each of us, the right to know where our family members (alive or deceased) are when they are held by the State. It’s a human right and every single day the survivors are being denied this right over and over. Enough.
If you would like to help in some way then contact your local constituency offices and ask them to support the issues going forward. Support survivor groups campaigns to have the grounds of relevant intuitions forensically investigated.
You can always find survivor groups online and you can contact them directly to see what’s needed.